From Script to Screen: Alien vs. Predator

Posted by SiL on August 30, 2017 (Updated: 15-Apr-2020)

Much has been written about various concepts that were abandoned for a big-screen adaptation of AvP.  This article instead focuses specifically on Anderson’s project as it developed from R-rated globe-trotting epic to 90 minute PG-13 popcorn fest.

The overall plot of Paul WS Anderson’s AvP remained largely unchanged through the course of its journey from script to screen. The heat bloom, the pyramid, the hunt, Lex and Scar are all present, as are most of the major cast in one way or another. But how many of these concepts were realised changed quite a lot on the way.

This article compares the theatrically released film to earlier drafts of the story. Minor details are omitted; the purpose here is to try to capture the broader strokes.

Sources: AvP Novel by Marc Cerasini; Script breakdown #1 from August 29th, 2003; AICN script review dated October 29th, 2003; September 26th 2003 draft by Paul WS Anderson; Production Draft.

Note: After an interview with Marc Cerasini shortly after the article’s initial publication, and the first script breakdown uncovered in 2020, the article has been revised to list more changes that have now been substantiated.

In the Beginning …

The Film: We open in space, with a satellite detecting a heat bloom beneath Bouvet Island off the coast of Antarctica.

The Journey: Originally the film was to open with a pre-credit teaser set in North Cambodia in 2000 BC (or 3000 BC according to Anderson in a making-of featurette released while the picture was in pre-production). A human hunting party is being stalked and killed by an Alien, until a Predator comes along and blows it to pieces.

This opening was storyboarded, but abandoned very early. The August 29th script breakdown features a hand-written note crossing out “Cambodia” and replacing it with “Antarctica”. Interestingly, this was written as a fairly substantial opening sequences, much more than the final Antarctica teaser; the script breakdown lists it as over two pages.

The new opening teaser was set in 1904 in the same whaling station the characters discover later in the film. This teaser scene plays out slightly differently in the September 26th draft script and the shooting script. The most significant change is the identity of the hapless whaler: in the final version he’s Karl, a “bearded, tough, strapping whaler”, while in the draft he’s “Jimmy, all of 19”. “Jimmy” gets a single line in the script before the Predator attacks, “Karl” does not.

A more minor difference is that Jimmy actually sees the Alien that’s about to attack him, while in the film the Alien is only revealed when we cut to the Predator vision.

 From Script to Screen: Alien vs. Predator

Note: The novel uses both teasers, as Cerasini first worked from a script that featured the Cambodia opening, then got a later revised draft with the Antarctica opening.

Our Hero Arrives…

The Film: Alexa “Lex” Woods is climbing the Lo Lah Ice Fall in Nepal when she gets a call from Maxwell Sheppherd, representing Weyland Industries. He informs Lex that Weyland requires her services, and picks her up in a helicopter.

The Journey: Lex’s name is listed as “LEX KLEIN” in the script breakdown and ALEXIA “LEX” KLINE in the September 26th draft. Her introduction is significantly different. Rather than climbing a mountain in Nepal, she’s taking photos of endangered birds in Alaska. She’s still on a cliff, but she’s already set up camp.

Max doesn’t appear at all in the scene — she speaks to an associate of her own named GABE who informs her that Weyland is looking for her. Instead of the helicopter teleporting onto an ice ledge like in the finished film, it rises up in front of her vantage point on the cliff, ruining her shot of the birds.

In the production script, she’s specifically climbing Mt Everest.

Our Leading Man’s Money Problems…

The Film: Sebastian De Rosa is in Teotihuacan, Mexico, looking for a burial chamber. He believes he’s discovered an ancient artefact, only to realise it’s a pepsi cap. Disheartened, he assures his team that he’ll get the funds together and keep the dig going. As he gets to his tent he runs into Max, who informs him that Weyland is offering to fund his dig in exchange for his time.

The Journey: Sebastian’s introduction is much the same, except he’s not Italian; it’s Sebastian WELLS, not Sebastian De ROSA.  Likewise the representative of the ministry of the interior, JUAN RAMIREZ (scenes filmed, but cut from the finished film; he’s only visible in a single shot in the theatrical cut) is JUANITA RAMIREZ.

Sebastian doesn’t reassure Thomas about his ability to reopen the dig, and his dialogue with Max is much shorter. For that matter, Thomas is largely a nonentity in the early versions: he exists, and is named, and is Sebastian’s right-hand man, but most of his material is taken by another character for most of the film (see further below).

The August 29th breakdown actually lists Verheiden as being present during this scene. He was originally written as a rival archeologist brought in to replace Sebastian at the dig site.

 From Script to Screen: Alien vs. Predator

Note: Presumably Sebastian’s nationality was changed to reflect the actor’s, as he refers to himself as growing up in Tennessee later in the September 26th draft. The same happened with Miller.

“Our Favourite Geek”…

The Film: Miller is introduced riding in the helicopter with Lex towards the ice cutter Piper Maru.

The Journey: The October 29th AICN review mentions a scene where Miller is introduced in the Smithsonian in Washington. This is reflected in the script breakdown, which lists an establishing scene of the Smithsonian and a scene in Miller’s office.

The September 26th draft keeps his introduction the same as the movie.

The Ice Cutter…

The Film: The characters are introduced to each other during a presentation by Mr Weyland, where he explains why they’re here: there’s a heat bloom under Bouvetoya that seems to be coming from a subterranean pyramid.

The Journey: The action aboard the Piper Maru was significantly cut down by the time the film was released.

“Verheiden” the archeological rival has a more substantial role. He arrives on the Piper Maru via helicopter in a dramatic flourish; it’s revealed Verheiden and Lex have a romantic history. In the novel, Lex’s romantic history is shifted to Quinn instead, and by the final draft, dropped completely.

In the September 26 draft, Verheiden is entirely absent; his role as a “soldier of fortune” isn’t mentioned until the production draft. His role in the story in the September 26 draft is taken by a muscular Italian named VINCENZO, a member of the security team, who is mentioned in the script breakdown.

Likewise by this point the entire romance subplot has been completely removed, even if it was ever shifted to Quinn. All that remains of the additional character interactions prior to the debriefing by Weyland is a scene where Sebastian is bringing bags into Lex’s room and they momentarily flirt. A stack of “scene deleted” and “there is no scene [x]” annotations in the draft show that many scenes aboard the ship before and after were cut.

By the shooting draft, we get what we see in the movie: Lex and Miller approach in the helicopter, cut to the debriefing.

The beginning of Weyland’s debriefing of the crew includes the material with Miller pissing off the roughnecks by playing on their equipment. This is largely unchanged in the shooting daft, and was even shot but cut from the final print. It can be viewed in the “Unrated” cut of the movie.

 From Script to Screen: Alien vs. Predator

Many names are different. All of the names of the guides they find to replace Lex, or which she suggests to replace her, are changed. ROUSSEAU, the French security member is, JAMISON. There’s another scientist called ALBRECHT in the script; he appears in Mexico with Sebastian in the script breakdown, but makes his first appears on the boat in the September draft. He has almost all of the material that would go to Thomas by the production draft.

Lex’s discussion with Weyland to change his mind about hiring the less experienced guide is much shorter and features less clunky platitudes than the production draft. Another minor change in the September 26th draft is that it’s Max, rather than Rousseau, who lets Lex know the chopper is refuelled.

Weyland is implored to stay on the ship by Lex prior to leaving the Piper Maru in the script breakdown.

As a minor note during this section, in the September 26th draft the ship’s captain, Leighton, is actually mentioned and has a few lines of dialogue with Weyland and Max. He informs them the ship can’t proceed any further and they have to go out in the Hagglunds. He has a fairly minor role in the novel as well, but is entirely absent by the finished picture.

Aren’t There Predators in This Thing?

The Film: Miller and Sebastian try to talk Lex into staying on the mission. Lex advises them to stay on the boat, Sebastian asks whether they stand a better chance with her or the number two choice; cut to the Predators in space, shooting a laser at the whaling station to drill a hole to the pyramid.

The Journey: The introduction of the Predators moved around a bit during development.

In the script breakdown, the Predators are introduced where they are in the finished film; as Lex is considering whether to leave. The Predators are seen awakening from cryosleep, a scene ADI even designed miniature Predators for. There are 5 Predators in the script breakdown.

 From Script to Screen: Alien vs. Predator

In the September 26th draft, this introduction is pushed slightly later. They’re introduced after the team has disembarked from the ice breaker, and it’s actually Sebastian’s “Hunter’s Moon” line that prompts the cut to the Predators coming around from the far side of the moon.

The Predators aren’t shown firing the laser to drill the hole in the early versions; Anderson mentions this was a later addition to the story in the commentary for the film. The cryosleep scene is removed as of the September 26th draft.

By the September draft, the Predators have been reduced to their final cohort of 3.

More Predators!

The Film: After the crew discovers a mysterious hole has been drilled into the ice for them, we see Predators gearing up.

The Journey: The gearing up scene is earlier in the script breakdown, and coincides with the crew disembarking the ship. The Predators also kneel to a stone effigy.

The effigy was cut by September 26th, but there are still differences. The sequences is longer in every version but the final film, with a shot of the Predators standing at the viewing window in the ship watching the approaching Earth. This image was released as a promotional still, but the sequence itself has never surfaced.

When the Predators arrive, we see a Predator hand reaching from a pod: this was in all versions of the script, and even apparently filmed, but cut.

 From Script to Screen: Alien vs. Predator

The Descent

The Film: The team descends the tunnel to the pyramid, almost losing Weyland to an accident in the process.

The Journey: The script breakdown attributes the accident to a sled full of weapons coming loose and almost running into Weyland. This was switched to a loose piece of fabric jamming his cable.

And Aliens, Finally …

The Film: While entering the pyramid, one of the team members steps on a pressure plate which triggers the awakening of the Alien Queen. Soon after, the team discovers the sacrificial chamber

The Journey: According to AICN and the script breakdown, the Queen was awoken later in the same scene where they get the shoulder cannons from the sarcophagus.

In the September 26th draft, this is moved earlier to when the team enters the pyramid. Interestingly, this draft still mentions the trigger tile in the sarcophagus scene, likely as an oversight.

The Queen awakens to see some of her eggs getting burned in the novel and the script breakdown. This is likely a reference to the comic, where Queen-baring eggs were destroyed by the Predators. This is gone by the final draft of the script.

Thomas is never mentioned in the September 26 draft of the script after “Albrecht” and “Jamison” are told to stay in the sacrificial chamber. All of Thomas’ dialogue in the finished film is given to Albrecht.

Attack on the Camp …

The Film: The Predators descend on the whaling camp and massacre everyone.

The Journey: This is admittedly much the same, but the September 26 draft is much more gruesome. The team are explicitly mentioned having been gutted and decapitated, although off-screen; their mutilated, frozen corpses are discovered by Quinn.

The script breakdown clearly mentions decapitated bodies around the camp after they kill the security team.

Quinn was originally written as surviving the Predators walking by him at the base of the tunnel. The script breakdown mentions him making it to the base of the tunnel and looking up, but this is crossed out; a handwritten note says he’s meant to die when the Predators walk past.

Taking the Weapons …

The Film: Max and the security team remove the Predator shoulder cannons and trigger the shifting of the pyramid.

The Journey: As stated above, this was apparently when the Queen was meant to awaken in the AICN draft. Interestingly, it was Verheiden in that draft, rather than Max, who removes the guns to trigger the temple, “ever the glory-seeker”.

The script breakdown mentions that Verheiden flees when the pyramid starts to shift, becoming isolated. A scene description has Sebastian “[explaining] why V did a runner”; presumably he was trying to escape with his find to claim it as his own.

It’s Miller who works out the shoulder cannons are what the Predators are after in the script breakdown.

Matrix Face-Huggers…

The Film: Rousseau and Thomas watch as the Alien eggs appear in the sacrificial chamber, and are promptly face-hugged in bullet time.

The Journey: What’s somewhat remarkable is that the bullet-time is explicitly written into the screenplay even as far back as the September 26th draft. Although it’s Jamison, not Rousseau, and Albrecht, not Thomas, the scene is almost identical. About the only significant difference is that Albrecht is apparently taking photos at the time, while Thomas isn’t in the finished film.

Birthing…

The Film: Rousseau awakens, surrounded by face-hugged scientists. She convulses, and an Alien explodes from her chest.

The Journey: There is no birthing scene prior to the final draft of the script from the material available. This scene is completely absent in both the script breakdown and the September 26 draft.

In the script breakdown, Verheiden — wandering the pyramid alone — discovers the aftermath in the sacrificial chamber. In the September draft this is entirely absent; the Aliens simply appear fully grown later.

Bizarrely, the remaining characters in the rest of the pyramid — Sebastian, Weyland, Lex et al. — see statues of Aliens and Predators fighting as they wander the hallways and ask “Do you think this is what happened to Jamison and Albrecht?”

Another interesting error is that Lex uses her walkie talkie to try to contact Jamison and Miller, who’s currently standing right next to her.

In the production draft, the scene is in place, and even mentions a “PG-13 friendly” spray of blood during the burst. Whether this is a legitimate comment from the script or an aside added by the uploader is unknown.

In the Tunnels …

The Film: Verheiden and Miller are separated into tunnels, and Connors gets lost on his own. Verheiden and Miller later find Connors’ gun after he’s taken by Aliens. Verheiden promptly falls down a hole and is likewise abducted, moments before Miller is also taken.

The Journey:  Miller and Vincenzo seem to be abducted in the tunnels together in the script breakdown, as in the final film.

In the September 26 draft, Miller isn’t abducted after Vincenzo; he instead finds Weyland’s body on the stairs, and is promptly taken by nearby Aliens. This is also in the shooting script and seemingly filmed, as a brief shot of this sequence is seen in one of the trailers.

 From Script to Screen: Alien vs. Predator

A strange problem in the shooting draft is that it mentions Miller being abducted both in the tunnels and after finding Weyland’s body.

Alien vs. Predator

In the film: Max is netted by a Predator; Lex is saved from being killed by Grid impaling Chopper; Celtic and Grid fight while Weyland, Sebastian and Lex escape.

The Journey: Another security person, Peters, is present in this scene; he gets explicitly decapitated.

The scene otherwise plays out the same in all versions of the script; Celtic nets Grid, earning him his name, and Grid wins the fight.

Scar vs Aliens …

The Film: Weyland tries to slow Scar down with a makeshift flamethrower and is killed. Scar pursues Lex and Sebastian into a chamber, but is cut off by the shifting pyramid. He kills a facehugger and an Alien before being caught off-guard by a second face-hugger after blooding himself.

The Journey: This is quite different in the script breakdown.

Weyland actually survives until after Sebastian reads the hieroglyphs on the floor; he’s present for Scar’s blooding. He then sacrifices himself to slow Scar down in the same manner, unsuccessfully.

The room Scar kills the Alien and facehugger in is much larger in the September 26 draft, full of pillars that obscure the view. The Alien attacks while Sebastian and Lex are still in the room, and is killed before the face-huggers. Scar cuts off the Alien’s arm with his throwing disc before delivering a killing blow.

There’s no tease of the face-hugging in the draft: the first hugger to attack does so after the blooding, and he kills it. Another face-hugger is mentioned, behind the first, but isn’t described jumping at Scar.

The Lost Predators

The Film: There are only three Predators; most of the team is wiped out by Aliens in the tunnels of the pyramid.

The Journey: According to the script breakdown, one of the remaining two Predators (of the five original Predaotrs) encountered Verheiden and Conners, who had met up in the pyramid. Conners is killed, but Verheiden is spared. This takes place immediately after Scar is face-hugged, but a hand-written note mentions this is “going to be re-written”..

The novel and the breakdown both feature a scene where one of the remaining Predators is torn in half while the other is held down by Grid and facehugged. All of this material is gone by the September 26 draft.

The Fight of the Chasm…

The Film: Sebastian and Lex, fleeing an Alien, leap over a chasm. Lex almost falls to her death, but is saved by Sebastian. Grid promptly appears and abducts Sebastian, leaving Lex hanging.

The Journey: The novel and the script breakdown feature this as a much more substantial 3-page scene, featuring many Aliens and Facehuggers, as well as Scar.

Sebastian is still abducted. Lex kills a facehugger and falls into a chamber where she encounters Scar. Scar is seen leaping the chasm and kills some Aliens.

This is followed by a scene where Lex finds Miller as he bursts; Scar kills the Alien.  The script breakdown can’t seem to agree on whether it’s Miller, or Verheiden she finds; it’s possible it was meant to be one and then changed to the other quickly. It’s the last mention of Verheiden in the script breakdown, who’s implied to have been impregnated when he discovered the sacrificial chamber earlier.

Shooting Gallery

The Film: Lex and Scar meet. Lex gives Scar his weapon and kills an Alien with a spear; Scar shoots a corridor of Aliens. The Aliens disperse when they hear the Queen, and Scar prepares Alien armour for Lex.

The Journey: The novel and script breakdown also show this was a more substantial scene, that was heavily reduced by the September 26th draft.

Lex and Scar meet, but are overwhelmed by the number of Aliens. Scar opens up secret passageways by activating heiroglyphs on the walls. Once they’ve made their escape, Scar prepares Alien armour for both of them.

Then the Aliens hear the Queen, and leave.

The Final Countdown …

The Film: Scar and Lex discover the Alien hive. After finding Sebastian and putting him out of his misery, Scar sets his wrist nuke and throws it into the pile of eggs. Scar and Lex run out of the pyramid and Lex sees a dark shadow at the end of the tunnel heading towards the surface. Aliens attack; one Alien wounds Scar and is killed by Lex. Before the others can get them, they take off on the sled up the tunnel to the surface just in time before the wrist nuke explodes. They outrun the explosion as the whaling station collapses behind them.

The Journey: The script breakdown has Scar and Lex encountering a cocooned Predator in the sacrificial chamber. Scar incinerates both the Predator and its offspring with a shoulder cannon blast. Lex meets Sebastian in the exit corridor, and kills him before he gives birth to an Alien.

Interesting to note, the novel switches these events around, presumably to preserve Sebastian’s place in the sacrificial chamber as seen in the final film.

In the September 26 draft, the extra Predators are gone and Sebastian is cocooned to the wall. Scar still demonstrates the nuke in the hive, he doesn’t activate it.

The Queen is behind Lex and Scar as late as the September 26 draft, not ahead. An Alien still attacks and wounds Scar, but he and Lex escape on the sled before the rest can get to them.

At the top of the tunnel, Scar tries to shoot the Queen with his shoulder canon in the script breakdown, but it’s been damaged. Now he activates his nuke, and throws it down the tunnel. The September 26 draft has him just dropping the nuke, and not trying to use the gun.

The Final Showdown …

The Film: Lex is given the warrior’s mark by Scar moments before the Queen surprises them and attacks. They team up to send her down into the icy waters off the shores of Bouvetoya, but Scar  is mortally wounded in the process and dies.

The Journey: The September 26th draft features many of the same beats as the finished fight, but arranged very differently.

Everything up to the blooding and the Queen attacking is much the same. The most significant difference is that Scar picks up a piece of Grid’s corpse to blood Lex, rather than a finger he mysteriously had strapped to his waist the whole time. From there, it starts to change:

Firstly, the script breakdown mentions Lex trying to pin the Queen with one of the haaglunds, but the Queen flips it. This is absent from the September draft.

In the September 26th draft they still have Scar’s shoulder cannon on the surface. Lex uses it to shoot at the Queen and take chunks off her crown. The Queen’s chains are much more of an issue in the September 26th draft, where they lash out “like steel whips” as the Queen moves. One of them disarms Lex of the shoulder cannon.

Scar takes much longer to reappear in the draft. Lex escapes from under the separator on her own, rather than needing Scar to stab the Queen to get out. She hides in the whaling station, gets attacked, and returns to the separator to wrap the Queen’s chain to it. The separator falls and hits the ice, much like in the film. However, the ice doesn’t immediately break and send her under the water. The Queen grabs Lex and pins her down — and here Scar returns by throwing a disc at the Queen.

The Queen dislodges the disc and Scar strikes a samurai pose, goading her on with a hand motion. There’s a storm raging as Scar fights the Queen with his spear, trading blows. Scar manages to impale the Queen, but is promptly impaled himself on her tail. Lex attacks the Queen with her Alien tail spear like in the movie, and is thrown away just like in the film.

The Queen is finally defeated when Scar throws his spear at the cracking ice the separator is resting on. The ice finally breaks, and drags the Queen down with it.

 From Script to Screen: Alien vs. Predator

So, Did It Get Better or Worse?

Honestly, I could make a fairly good argument that the story generally got worse between script and screen. While the earlier script certainly lacked in the character and dialogue departments as much as the final film, there was at least less cringeworthy dialogue on the page. Sebastian, for example, actually feels like a bit more of a human being than Mr Exposition in the final picture.

Small touches, such as moving Scar using his wristbomb at the mouth of the tunnel rather than in the hive, feel much better timed in the script than on the screen. Watching the Aliens swarming up the tunnel on and around the Queen would’ve made a much more interesting visual. The countdown wouldn’t be curiously long compared to other films, and probably could’ve avoided the cartoonish explosion that we see in the finished picture.

It must be noted that much of this was budgetary. AvP looks expensive, but was not, and many of the more fantastic visuals described would certainly have blown out the budget. It’s a pity most of this came at the expense of delivering what the audience was waiting so long for; Alien vs Predator action. The battle of the chasm and the extended retreat from the swarming Aliens would have added some much-needed excitement and tension in the last half of the film.

As a personal aside, not showing the bursting and having the bodies found later probably would’ve been more satisfying than the bloodless spectacle we ended up with. Your mileage may vary.

And, to be fair, the film did improve some aspects. The extra two Predators were entirely superfluous. Verheiden could have gone either way as a subplot; the Lex romantic past subplot is entirely unnecessary. Streamlining a lot of the locations helped to give a better sense of unity throughout the place, and bringing the Queen in earlier helped spread out the reveals.

Overall, this was clearly never going to be as good as the originals, even from the outset. But reading Anderson’s earlier drafts actually makes it slightly more understandable why he was given the greenlight to begin with.

Post Comment

Comments: 10
  1. @SM – the earlier draft is linked to above if you’re curious.

    @RaZorbakk36- this one is a guest editorial by SiL. :) Personally, I would have preferred Briggs’ version too. I’m still dying to see that second draft he did.


  2. Interesting. I’ve only read the production draft so hearing about the early version was nice. You can see where Cerasini got some of his material from.


  3. Putting aside whether or not the changes from the script to film would’ve changed much, many would agree that they’d prefer it had the film be more of a direct adaptation of the Dark Horse Comic. What would have been an interesting approach would be to make an Aliens vs Predator trilogy, the first set in pre-civilisation times, the second modern day and the lastly the 3rd in the future close to the Alien time line.

    Annoying that while these movies had there fun moments they’re regarded as miss opportunities and none of the continuity or influence links to the following Predator movies or the Prometheus/Alien Prequels. Someday when Fox sees the oportunity they may re-attempt another shot at the cross over.


  4. Great article Cpl. Hicks. But I still would have prefered to see Peter Briggs script come to fruition. I read that screenplay every so often for 9 years and then. Anderson came along.


  5. Ugh dang. Even those small differences can still give better shape to the movie. The script just feels more natural while the film came out to be another cheesy Hollywood film.


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